Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 21st 2009
Rigaldo has personally arrived on the scene in Pieta to eliminate the leaders of the fierce Claymore resistance, but before he can take out Miria, Clare successfully intervenes. Pushing her body to the limit via a partial Awakening, she wages an epic (mostly) one-woman battle against Rigaldo as Raki reaches the battle scene. Though she ultimately manages to defeat Rigaldo, she has overextended herself and cannot turn back. One foe yet remains for her, however, for Priscilla has also arrived near Pieta and used mistaking Clare's aura for Teresa's as the impetus to regain her memories and true form and power. Though they try to help, in this final showdown Raki and the other Claymores are really still just bystanders, as they cannot contend with Priscilla's power. Once again Clare battles effectively alone, but can she handle Priscilla without losing herself to her own Awakening?
Reviewer's Note: This review may be a bit more spoilerish than normal.
The final anime volume of Claymore opens with arguably the best-executed and most thrilling battle of the entire series, but that is not what episodes 23-26 are most remembered for. That “honor” instead falls to the way the series ends.
The prevailing opinion amongst fans about the anime's finale is that it is a disappointment at best, outright bad at worst. Some complain vociferously about how it diverges markedly from the manga by bringing Clare and Raki back together and climaxing with her nearly mano-a-mano confrontation with Priscilla (both of which have yet to happen in the manga as of this writing), while others criticize the hackneyed way in which the final battle is staged, how Clare could even stand against a being supposedly powerful enough to give even Creatures of the Abyss pause (a point which, admittedly, never comes up in the anime), and/or the numerous loose ends the series seems to leave hanging at the end. While these criticisms have some merit, they actually do not detract much from what the series actually does accomplish.
At first glance the series seems to lack any real sense of resolution, and indeed it does leave many questions unanswered. What is Isley's ultimate plan? What was the Organization really trying to accomplish with the suicidal Pieta mission? What's the deal with Rafaela and why is she “special?” And, perhaps most prominently, where does the story go from here, since it ends with a clear sense that there is more to tell? These questions are all answered in later volumes of the manga, but to criticize the anime for not dealing with them is unfair since the answers to most of those issues have only come up in the manga since the anime went into production in early 2007.
Those who think there is no resolution at the end are missing the point of what Madhouse was trying to accomplish with their slant on the story, however, and those who complain about the changes are not appreciating the different realities of anime and manga storytelling. Unlike the ongoing story in the manga, the anime version has a definite length limit, so at least a partial sense of closure had to be added in or else Madhouse would have ended up with a mess like the end of Berserk. Since a straight manga adaptation would have provided no adequate series cut-off point without major tweaks, Madhouse took the most logical approach and opted instead to work in a resolution to Clare's quest for vengeance against Priscilla. In retrospect, the deliberate build-up towards this can be seen throughout the series: the backstory arc in episodes 5-8 established why Clare would be so motivated, later episodes pointed out that Clare had apparently honed her abilities specifically towards hunting Awakened Beings, and Clare admitted to several different characters on various occasions that hunting Priscilla “for what we lost that day” has always been her main goal. Even reuniting with Raki, though important to her, was clearly only a secondary consideration to finding Priscilla in her decision to go north. Priscilla's behavior, especially in how she demonizes Teresa, also points her solidly in that direction. Claims that Madhouse simply dropped that confrontation in at the end hold no water.
And the resolution the series does have? Looked at in a certain way, the entire anime version has ultimately always been about saving Clare from the self-destructive path on which she treads and giving her a chance to live a normal life. Her desire for vengeance is certainly understandable; in the blink of an eye Priscilla destroyed the person and bond which had pulled Clare out of a really awful situation as a child, after all. An all-consuming fixation on vengeance is all too often a path to ruination, however, and in the final volume Clare becomes a poster child for that sentiment. Her thirst for revenge is so great that she even temporarily staves off an Awakening she otherwise thinks is out of control in order to get a shot at Priscilla, but fails to realize that the vengeance consuming her is turning her into a monster in spirit as well as body. Unlike Ophelia, though (and to a lesser extent Priscilla, too), Clare has friends to help turn her away from that thoroughly destructive path, which is what the final scenes are really all about. Those unhappy with the way the climax plays out should remember that Clare killing Priscilla is less important than Clare not completely losing her humanity, as finding a balance between the human and the monster is the true essence of Claymore.
How the final episodes get there is hardly flawless, however. Episode 24 stretches to fill in the gap between the Rigaldo and Priscilla fights and certain aspects of the episode-and-a-half-long final fight, despite the fight's intensity, are rather cheesy; the parts in episode 26 may, in fact, constitute the least well-executed battle scenes in the entire series. The out-of-control powermongering which all too commonly drags down shonen action series is also firmly in evidence, especially in the final fight, and some of the time factors involved are suspect if examined closely.
On the plus side, the characterizations are as strong through this stretch as at any other point during the series. The diversity of the remaining cast provides something for every taste: Priscilla's thoroughly unbalanced nature; Miria's serious, businesslike attitude; Helen's earthy, attitude-laden demeanor; Deneve's quiet but fierce resolve; Miss “I'm not dead yet!” Jean's pursuit of a fulfilling purpose; or Raki's overwhelmed-by-being-out-of-his-league difficulties in handling the situation. In fact, the only prominent character through this stretch who fails to be interesting is Isley, although this is probably more creditable to horribly lame dialogue in both Japanese and English than his actual characterization.
The potently effective musical score shows no sign of stumbling through these episodes, as it combines with some efficient combat animation to contribute greatly towards the wonder that is the Clare/Rigaldo fight and yet also hits exactly the right stride in the more melancholy and emotional moments. The mix may be eclectic, but it certainly is effective. Not enough praise can be heaped on the use and engineering of the sound effects, which give transformation scenes an additional edge. The star in the artistry is once again the use of color, whether it is the blue and gray washing of the Pieta scenes, the grainy red or yellow schemes for the flashbacks, or the reddish tint of the final battle scene. One scene at the end, where the sun comes out and restores everything to a properly vibrant color scheme, creates a stunning and beautiful visual contrast. The character designs and rendering are also as good as ever, especially including Clare's transformation and the brief flash of Isley's true form but not including Priscilla's final form, which looks so ridiculous that it is at least partly responsible for the negative impressions of the final battle scenes.
The English dub had some tough work to do through these episodes, as they contain some of the most emotional scenes, lots of instances of characters speaking or growling in gravelly tones, and extensive instances of the multi-layered voice work used for Awakened Beings, but did it relatively well. In the latter case the layers ran as much as four deep, with the balancing of the layers varying depending on the behavior and emotional state of the characters. It is a markedly different audio effect than what is heard in the Japanese dub, where the seiyuu just vary their pitch, but does also give the Awakened forms a more decidedly inhuman feel. Also notable is John Swasey's subdued take on Isley and Vic Mignogna's unrecognizable but thoroughly appropriate sound as Rigaldo in Awakened form.
Brina Palencia and Stephanie Young, the English voices of Priscilla and Clare respectively, appropriately did the included audio commentary track for episode 26, where they discuss their joy over Obama taking office (this was apparently recorded in late January) as well as extolling their admiration for the cast and discussing various aspects of doing the voice work for the series. Other on-disk Extras include textless songs and a couple of long original Japanese TV advertisements for the series. This volume, like the first one, also includes a 24-page booklet providing character profiles, insight from the character designer on the design process for several of the characters, and some bonus concept and finished art, including a sharp two-page spread featuring Priscilla and Teresa flanking Clare which would be very, very cool to have in poster size. (Hint to Funimation!)
As a whole, Claymore never overcomes or entirely avoids the shonen action style points which lie at its foundation, but it does present a dark, brutal, intense, and mature look at female warriors which – most importantly – respects its female characters rather than exploiting them. The series looks great, sounds great, has lots of great action scenes and characters, and here shows an ending which may not satisfy everyone but is far better than it is generally made out to be. It is the kind of series that makes you yearn for more in a positive way, but sadly, as of this time nothing has ever been announced about a second season and seems unlikely to happen. Those who wish to see a continuation with a different slant can always follow the manga beginning with volume 11, but if this is all there will be for the anime then at least the viewer can walk away knowing that Clare actually has a future to look forward to.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Excellent artistry, music, and sound effects, maintains a consistent thematic progression through to the end.
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